U students ready to make changes after D.C. trip

by Alex Robinson

Eleven environmentally minded University students took a road trip over the weekend, but instead of packing into a tie-dye Volkswagen and heading west to California, they set their sights on Washington, D.C.

Students from the University’s Environmental Studies Club drove 19 hours in two Dodge Caravans to Washington, D.C. for the Power Shift conference – a combination of panel discussions and workshops focusing on how students can turn their campuses green.

More than 7,000 college and high school students from across the country attended the conference.

At Power Shift, about 70 students from Minnesota had a chance to meet with U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Norm Coleman, R-Minn., to discuss plans for Minnesota’s environmental future.

Environmental sciences senior and club president Erin Andrews said having so many students there showed the senators that young people were concerned with environmental issues.

“There’s obviously politics that weigh into it, but I think just our presence made an impression on both senators,” Andrews said.

Andrews said other than getting to meet with Minnesota’s senators, the group was also able to meet with students from other colleges.

Many of the other colleges are using more renewable energy than the University, Andrews said.

“The University has a lot of catching up to do,” Andrews said. “We kind of knew that they weren’t as green as they claim to be.”

One of the changes Andrews said she wants to make is to convince University President Bob Bruininks to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Change Commitment.

The policy would force the University to make changes over a certain amount of years to become a carbon-neutral campus, Andrews said.

Environmental science policy and management junior Mollie Thompson said it seemed like a lot of other colleges had more progressive administrations, especially the University of Maryland, which hosted the conference.

A major theme of the conference was that students are the catalyst for change, and since the student body at the University is so large, it is difficult to make changes, Thompson said.

“For a campus as large as ours, changes are not easy to make,” Thompson said. “When they are made they come in increments.”

Todd Reubold, communications director for the Institute on the Environment, said it’s not only difficult to make changes on a large campus, but it’s also difficult to make those changes known once they are made.

Many students are not aware the University has one of the largest fleets of hybrid cars in the country, Reubold said.

Reubold said the University as a whole is helping to lead the way in renewable energy. The University could pick up on some things already implemented at other universities in Minnesota.

“In the Twin Cities, one of the things we can do is look at what they’re already doing in campuses around the state,” he said.